As we welcome the Year of the Tiger, we kick off this year’s Chinese New Year special series. Today we give you the first story of this thee-piece series – Shu WANG, independent contractor of PERTAMINA MANDALIKA SAG Racing Team.
© All photos, including featured cover, provided by Shu Wang
Venturing into MotoGP
Born in Beijing, China, Shu has been exposed to many different languages as a child. Her parents were living in Japan at the time, so when she stayed with them, she got familiarized with the Japanese language. Then at school in Beijing, she also learned English as a second language. When she decided to move to Japan for college, she was already equipped with Chinese, English, and Japanese in the language toolbox. Little did she know that this was a toolbox that would come in handy one day in the MotoGP paddock. Shu had no idea what MotoGP was at the time.
Shu’s path intertwined with MotoGP when she bought the 2011 Honda Casey Stoner Repsol Fireblade. Although when she got the bike, Stoner already retired into the sunset, so when she joined Honda’s MotoGP tour at Motegi in 2013, Shu couldn’t really see Stoner competing, and she was completely lost at the event. “The tour was scheduled so you arrive in time for the MotoGP race. I had no idea there were two other categories. I saw a lot of riders and teams in the paddock, and I was like ‘can they all fit on the grid?’ Good thing was, many MotoGP fans from Shanghai would go to Motegi because it was close, so I met many Chinese fans on the grandstand. They told me everything about MotoGP, and I got totally hooked.”
From there, Shu’s journey with MotoGP started with her annual visit to Motegi, joining the friends she met on the grandstand. She also found riders she’d like to root for, it ended tragically, but also opened the door for Shu by chance. “I became a fan of Luis Salom. In 2015, my friend asked me to visit more GPs and not just go to Motegi every year. So we made a deal to go to Sepang together after Motegi in the next year. Then in Catalan GP in 2016, Luis tragically passed away. I didn’t want to go anymore.”
Shu didn’t want to go to the races anymore, and her best friend in MotoGP didn’t push her. But her friend prepared flags and banners for Luis Salom, as well as some small tokens for his team, SAG Racing Team. In the end, Shu was so moved by her friend, and decided to go with her to Motegi, just as a goodbye. “We took the flags and banners with us. We went to the team to say hello to them and give them the gifts. We also just wanted to see his bike. That was how I got to know my now boss.”
It was like being brought into the sport by her favorite rider, Shu built a connection with SAG team boss Eduardo Perales. Because of her ability to speak both Japanese and English, she started working for the team whenever an interpreter or translator was needed. “My boss thought I was Japanese at first. Then he realized I was Chinese with English and Japanese abilities. We exchanged contact info. At the time they already signed with Nagashima, but hasn’t announced. So he asked whether I would like to help out translating for him if needed. I started working for the team on the side. They would call me if they needed anything, and I still had my day job at a bathing suit company.”
Bringing MotoGP to the world
From not wanting to go to any more GPs, Shu actually ended up going to Motegi, Sepang, and Valencia, and then accompanying the team to their winter testing in Jerez that year. Her role also gradually expanded from interpretation for Japanese riders, to business development for the team in Asia. “My boss asked me to translate the team intro. We then actually took the material to some friends in China, they were thinking about establishing a training program for young riders. We also had sponsors from Southeast Asia for years, we know how to work with Asian riders, how to best accommodate them when they arrive in Spain.”
Throughout her childhood and in her early years of working, Shu had been moving around or travelling around a lot. When she was a kid, as her parents were in Japan, she would live with other family members at different places when she wasn’t in Japan with her parents. At her first job at the bathing suit company, she would travel around the world for product launches or marketing events. But it wasn’t until accompanying the team to the World Championship in 2017 did Shu feel the fun in all the traveling. “I used to travel around the world for work, but that really felt more like just ‘working’ than ‘travelling around the world’. I didn’t really see anything, instead, I was in a room all day working or having meetings. When I was travelling around with the team, putting together my own schedule and other logistics, it felt so different, and I really loved it!”
The love for the life in the MotoGP world helped Shu decide to become an independent contractor working for the team. She looks after the team’s market in Asia, through that part of her work, she saw some best practices of building a path to MotoGP. “Nagashima’s sponsor has a dealership of Honda’s. But more importantly, he has invested a lot into cultivating young talent in Japan. He is now the organizer of FIM MiniGP in Japan, he also has a support system for riders up to 600cc class and the means to send the top talent to Europe.”
Similarly, Shu is helping the team build something for the young talent in Southeast Asia together with their title sponsor. It also expands beyond riders to mechanics and technicians, as motorsport is a team sport. “Growing the sport in China and in Asia really requires a vast fan base. The kids need to be interested in it to start participating. Then there needs to be funding for training and racing, so the riders can be competitive when they arrive in Europe. Besides the riders, we also need excellent mechanics and technicians. This is something we’ve been trying to do in Malaysia and Indonesia with our sponsors. We have training courses in their country with our mechanics as instructors, top grads from the program can come to our team for further training, then they can go back to Southeast Asia to help train more mechanics and technicians.”
The pyramid for riders’ growth requires money, and the vast fan base requires engagement, especially in the era of COVID. “Last year, our sponsors couldn’t be in the paddock, but we wanted them to know what we were doing. So I launched our YouTube channel to give people behind-the-scene stuff on the team during race weekends. We now have almost 100k subscribers.”
Having been with the team and MotoGP for five years, Shu of course had ups and downs. But for now, her eyes are still on more seasons to come with the team. “Last year when there was nobody in the paddock, I really felt like MotoGP was losing its grip on me. Racing felt like testing. But in the last race, Remy (Gardner) won. My boss and the whole team were so emotional, he took Luis’ number onto the podium, and I felt like I fell in love with the sport again. For now, I’d like to stay with the team for a few more years. I think it’s really interesting working with a Moto2 team. You constantly get new kids from Moto3, who are looking forward to making a name for themselves in the new class. You get pumped too seeing them that way!”
In Year of the Tiger, 2022 season, we wish Shu and the team can continue to have great races and results in Moto2.
On Feb. 5th, which is also the 5th of the first month of this Year of the Tiger, we bring you the next piece in this series – Qiangying Zhang, rider of Kawasaki Racing Team China.